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Columbia Business Monthly

Advanced Technology Services Offers Industrial Monitoring from Greenville Technology Center

May 03, 2021 11:23AM ● By Lori Coon

By John C. Stevenson

Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS) has built its business ensuring manufacturers’ factories run at peak performance – doing so most recently by introducing a state-of-the-art technology center that continuously monitors asset health for predictive actions to eliminate unplanned downtime.

Located in their Greenville, South Carolina, facility – the technology center is backed by decades of experience going back to the company’s roots as a part of leading manufacturer, Caterpillar, Inc.

“Our company started out as an internal group to help support (Caterpillar’s) automation efforts,” recalled ATS CEO Jeff Owens. “Going way back into the 1970s, as factory automation was being introduced into the plants, they put a young group of engineers together to help select and take care of (the automation systems) and make them work.”

The group – known at the time as Caterpillar Advanced Technology Services, or CATS – grew within Caterpillar until the 1980s, when the idea was hatched to spin it off, under the Advanced Technology Services, Inc. brand, as a startup backed by Caterpillar’s venture-capital arm. As ATS, the entrepreneurial business continued to serve the needs of Caterpillar and seek out new clients.

“We service all types of factory production equipment across many industries, reducing failures and improving asset performance. Our company mission has always been to make factories run better and for over three decades now we have perfected our expertise in increasing uptime which makes our customers’ operations more productive,” Owens added.

As its client list grew to include several large manufacturers in the Palmetto State, ATS ramped up to meet the demand. The company that began with 32 employees now boasts a payroll of around 3,500 with about 20% being former military.

Owens said, as Industry 4.0 continues to evolve and mature within manufacturing, he sees growing demand that brings with it a myriad of new opportunities for ATS.

“We are living in an age of unprecedented social and economic connectivity and an Industry 4.0 technology revolution that is happening quickly. This rapid development provides ATS with an opportunity that we have never seen before,” Owens explained. “Organizations across every industry are leveraging technology and analytics to monitor, protect, and optimize their physical assets. These analytics are helping manufacturers make decisions in near-real time and then capitalize on the insights to increase revenue and profitability.”

Breakthroughs in sensor technology have helped to drive these new, disruptive models, according to Owens.

“It’s really been the advances in technology – the various types of sensors being developed and the low cost to deploy, along with the ability to utilize cloud-based software to store the data and then analyze and take action from it has become so much easier,” he said. “It’s taking the internet and the cloud and applying it to manufacturing.”

Another industry focus Owens sees is one of sustainability: “The amount of energy used in manufacturing and the emissions from the plants – it all (can be controlled) in the right way and our company can help with that also.”

He said ATS’s advanced analytics can also be applied to help in other areas that are equally critical to any company’s success.

“A continuing trend is the importance of safety and the work environment, so that employees are not working in dark, dingy environments, but instead, more brightly lit, air-conditioned facilities,” he said.

It is Owens’ opinion that these trends are reflected in the changing landscape happening within manufacturing and can be seen in ATS’s technology-driven approach.

“We have the skilled technical workforce; we have advanced recruiting capabilities, and continuous training programs,” he continued. “And at the forefront of our strategy is a technology first approach that makes everyone and everything more efficient and rewarding. We’ve eliminated a lot of unnecessary steps and energy by utilizing technology in our daily jobs.”

At the core of ATS’s solutions suite is Reliability 360™, which is based in the Greenville technology center.

“As the leader in technology-driven industrial maintenance, Reliability 360™ is at the center of our technology offering,” Owens said. “When leveraged by our sensors that are monitoring asset health 24/7, real time alerts are transferred to our reliability engineers to analyze the data and provide prescriptive actions to on-site maintenance teams eliminating any unplanned downtime.”

Locating the Reliability 360™ technology center in Greenville meant they needed to move from their previous location, which ATS opened in 1998, into a larger facility. For the new facility that opened in 2015, ATS selected a former Social Security Administration building that had sat unused for more than a decade and was considered abandoned. ATS contractors renovated the building, demolishing the interior and upgrading the structure to meet building codes.

In reflection, Owens noted there were several reasons behind the company’s decision to expand its regional footprint into Greenville over two decades ago.

“Caterpillar had built a plant in Fountain Inn, SC – it was a big investment for them,” he said. “We were hired to go take care of all the equipment in that plant, and so that introduced us to the area. We saw that manufacturing was really growing in the Southeast, and Greenville was becoming a hub.

“The upper Midwest was losing a little momentum in manufacturing for various reasons, and the Southeast was gaining,” he continued. “We considered Atlanta, we considered Charlotte, but because we were already familiar with Greenville and began to expand our client base there we decided it was a natural extension for us to open a regional facility. It’s proven to be a good decision for our business growth.”

A highly trained and skilled workforce was another consideration for ATS.

“We’ve developed a relationship with Clemson University,” Owens said. “Clemson has really great students – interns and graduates – in sales and marketing, supply chain, and – most important for us – engineering. We’ve hired some really great young talent that are pursuing careers in manufacturing which we are proud to support.”

In addition to Reliability 360™, other ATS departments operating out of the Greenville facility include engineering, supply chain, operations, sales, human resources and recruiting.

“If I were to predict where manufacturing is going to grow, it would be the Southeast,” Owens said. “A combination of states offer incentives for companies to locate there and the quality of life, the cost of living are all added positives for employees. We will continue to invest and expand in the greater Southeast region, especially as it continues to emerge as the manufacturing hub of the United States.”

Owens concluded by saying that as ATS grows, it will continue to work to distinguish itself as best-in-class in its field.

“ATS is, and always will be, a people company. To continue our path as a growth company, we are building upon our best-in-class people and processes with Industry 4.0 technologies such as remote monitoring, wireless sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. to provide even greater uptime, productivity and reduced costs to our clients. It comes down to delivering results and that is at the core of the ATS culture.”

Advanced Technology Services, Inc. Receives Honor for Excellence from Deloitte

After a year marked indelibly by the challenges of a global pandemic, Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS) has been honored for its achievements and excellence.

ATS has been named one of the 2021 US Best Managed Companies by Deloitte Private and The Wall Street Journal. The program recognizes outstanding U.S. privately held companies and the achievements of their management teams based on four criteria: strategy, culture, execution and financials.

“It is a tremendous honor to be included in this elite list of best managed private companies,” said Jeff Owens, CEO of ATS. “We have worked incredibly hard to distinguish ourselves as a market leader in technology-driven industrial maintenance and MRO asset management solutions, and this recognition is a testament to those efforts.”

Owens noted the company’s growth since its founding in 1985, as it has consistently made good on its tagline promise to maximize clients’ efficiency and productivity: “We Make Factories Run Better.”

“Prioritizing innovation and technology to drive continuous improvement helped ATS grow from an idea on a napkin over three decades ago to a nationally recognized mid-market company today,” Owens explained. “Staying focused on our vision and culture sustains the business through trying times like we have all had over the past year and positions us for future growth opportunities.”

The 2021 list features 49 privately held companies including Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Inspire Brands, Lockton, Southwire, and Sun-Maid Growers of California.

While the recognition focused on the accomplishments of winning companies’ management teams, Owens was quick to share credit for the company’s achievement with all ATS employees.

“ATS is, and always will be, a people company,” he said. “We owe every employee a debt of gratitude for their extraordinary efforts and enduring commitment to delivering outstanding service to our customers, and we share this award with them.

ATS is headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, with regional offices throughout the U.S., Mexico and the U.K.